Xabi Alonso: The Passing Master

Xabi Alonso shared a slice in Spanish football history by playing a pivotal role in their two European Championships and FIFA World Cup triumphs between 2008 and 2012. He amassed over 700 competitive appearances for six different clubs and accumulated 14 major honours over a sensational 18-year playing career.

His journey started in Sociedad and ended in Munich with his third successive Bundesliga title. Alonso drew the curtain on his footballing career on his own terms with yet another success story at the ripe old age of 35.
Alonso was always destined for stardom and was majorly influenced by his father, Periko Alonso, who won three La Liga titles with Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona respectively. He first discovered his passion for football whilst living in San Sebastian, where he’d persistently practice his technical skills on the sandy beaches with former Everton and Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta.
He was engulfed by his father’s style of play, which revolved around passing the ball rather than solely concentrating on shooting. This encouraged Alonso to begin playing as a central defensive midfielder from an early age and allowed him to blossom from a fixed position during his primitive years.

Arteta and Alonso were identified by a variety of high-profile Spanish teams, but whereas Arteta moved to Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, Alonso instead joined his father’s former club Real Sociedad. He instantaneously made an impression for The Royal and was promoted into the first team to make his senior debut at just 18.
Real Sociedad were experiencing a tumultuous transitional period, which made it very difficult for Alonso to cement a starting place due to the chopping and changing of managers. John Toshack transformed his career by gutsily promoting him to captain at just 20, but in hindsight it was a masterstroke from the Welshman.
Toshack’s decision was perceived as being on the verge of insanity but Alonso fulfilled the role magnificently and quickly became a fan-favourite. The team had been rooted to the bottom of the league table prior to Alonso’s promotion to captain, but miraculously climbed into 14th place by the end of the season.
This marked the beginning of the revolution at Real Sociedad, although Toshack was just a stepping stone to a more prosperous future. Despite Toshack’s departure, Alonso remained firmly in the frame to continue his rise as captain under the tutelage of French manager Raynald Denoueix.
The Blue and Whites finished runners-up to Real Madrid in La Liga in 2003 and secured qualification for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history. Their success would be short-lived and international recognition and participation would soon attract the likes of Real Madrid and Liverpool to their door step.
Alonso joined the latter when returning from international duty at Euro 2004 in Portugal and quickly established himself in the heart of midfield with Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard. The duo were heavily involved in arguably the most memorable night in The Reds’ history when both players scored to force a miraculous second half comeback from a three-goal deficit.
Liverpool went onto defeat AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul and Alonso wrote his name in history during his debut season in England. The Premier League title would elude him, but his spell at Liverpool ended with four major honours and enhanced his chances of achieving his dream move to Real Madrid.

This became a reality in 2009, although his arrival was overshadowed by the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United and Kaka from AC Milan. His debut season at the Santiago Bernabeu ended without silverware, but he was able to win the first of his three major honours at international level with Spain at Euro 2008.
Mauricio Pellegrini was relieved of his duties and replaced by Jose Mourinho who’d won the treble with Inter Milan in the previous season. Alonso’s mind-set was fixed on his international career during this period, as Spain aimed to follow their European Championship success with further glory at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Vincente Del Bosque started him in every fixture on their route to the final, but Spain, who were tipped as one of the favourites opened the tournament with a shock defeat at the hands of Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland. Spain bounced back to beat Honduras and Chile and finished top of Group H to secure their place in the knockout stages and the rest was history…
Portugal, Paraguay and Germany were victims of their hypnotic and majorly successful possession-based brand of football, which was influenced by Pep Guardiola and FC Barcelona. The likes of Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and Villa were hailed as heroes for their performances in South Africa, but only a fool would fail to acknowledge the importance of Alonso in their World Cup winning team.
The final was contested on a knife edge and English referee Howard Webb had the unfortunate job of controlling the fierce and famous encounter between Spain and the Netherlands in Johannesburg. That Spanish team that defeated Holland in the 2010 World Cup final are deemed by many as the greatest team in history. The Dutch surged to fame with their beautiful brand of “Total Football” in 1974 but their performance in this final was in stark contrast to that of Rinus Michels’ team 36 years ago.
Eight different Dutch players were booked during the 120 minutes of play, including Jonny Heitinga, who was given his marching orders during the first half of extra-time. Andres Iniesta dealt the decisive blow deep into extra-time to crown Spain world champions for the first time in their history.

Success at Real Madrid was also on the horizon following his fantasy year on the international stage. The prolific trophy-lauded coach Mourinho concluded his debut season with the Copa Del Rey, and went onto to put an end to Barcelona’s record of three successive La Liga titles by stealing their crown in 2012.
Poland and Ukraine were his next destinations as Spain aimed to win a historic third successive international tournament. Alonso played an instrumental role in their route to the final against Italy in the Olympic Stadium. He converted both goals in their win over France in the quarter-finals and again featured in all six fixtures.
Spain won by a record score-line in Kiev by overwhelming the Italians with a demoralizing 4-0 victory. Alonso would only represent Spain at one more major tournament, although it would be far from successful with Spain exiting the 2014 World Cup at the group phase.
He concluded his spell at Real Madrid is scintillating fashion by securing his second UEFA Champions League in 2014. Unfortunately, Alonso was unable to participate in the final against Atletico Madrid, which they subsequently won 4-1 in extra-time, due to a booking in the semi-final against Bayern Munich.
He’d write his final chapter in Germany at Bayern Munich who were under the management of former FC Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola. Alonso thrived in his possession-based system due to his supreme vision and incredible passing range. He won three successive German Bundesliga titles in Munich, broke the record for the most completed passes in a single Bundesliga match and reached over 100 UEFA Champions League appearances. On 20 May 2017, Bayern Munich didn’t only wish farewell to their legendary cult hero Philipp Lahm, but they also witnessed the last competitive match in the career of Xabi Alonso.
Not only did Alonso strike a chord with supporters of his various clubs, but he was also a national treasure for his contributions during Spain’s Euro 2008 and 2012 and 2010 FIFA World Cup triumphs. His international career lasted over eleven years and he amassed the seventh-highest amount of caps (114) and converted the fourth-most penalties (6) in Spanish football history.
Alonso was an indomitable component in midfield and had a unique ability to control the tempo of any game. This befitted the brand of football being played in Spain due to the revolution at FC Barcelona under Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. He’s rightfully ranked amongst the greatest midfielders of his generation, alongside the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool supporters still eulogize over him nine years after his departure to Real Madrid. This is a testament of the respect he gauged from supporters by virtue of his hard work, passion and dedication for each of the six different clubs he represented during his 18-year playing career. He developed at each club and completed his career as the finished article at Bayern Munich and will be remembered as a true great in football history.

One thought on “Xabi Alonso: The Passing Master

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *